Thursday, 10 May 2012

Tao Te Ching

Tao Te  Ching of Lao Tzu  is a book of  5000 Ancient Chinese characters, some of which are not in use now.  So translations differ and some of them read like different texts.  Again the subject is also an involved one, making a translator’s task difficult.  So a translation by a person, who knows not only Chinese and English well but also has a spiritual bent and is exposed to Eastern thinking without bias, may come nearer to interpreting Lao Tzu’s mind correctly.  The translation by Gia Fu Feng and Jane English is considered to be one such. Reading this without any commentary, and thinking about it, I find they may have captured Lao Tzu’s spirit in their work.  Maybe my own thinking that Tao represents Brahman, the Cosmic Supreme without form and qualities, and the opening chapter being eminently amenable to this interpretation in this translation, is at the root of my preference.  However I find this translation is widely used, as seen from many of the popular quotes from this book. 
This book consists of 81 chapters, no chapter exceeding a page which makes it easily readable.  Though one can read the whole book in a few hours, to understand it, even with sharp intellect may take days of reading and re-reading accompanied by subtle thinking on these words.  The topics covered are not only on Tao, but also on others like sage, virtues like moderation, humility, dispassion etc., the code for a just ruler, the futility of violence and war.  The language is not straight forward but bristles with paradoxes and aphorisms, as I mentioned in my earlier blog “Tao and Brahman”.

The first chapter runs as follows and its interpretation from my view is given below that.
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.

The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and Earth.
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one sees the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source
but differ in name; this appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.
Tao can be interpreted as Brahman. was seen in the earlier blog.  I want to qualify this as Nirguna Brahman, the one without form and qualities, as contrasted with Saguna Brahman, the one with form and qualities which is used in Upasana or Dhyanam and which is also referred to as Iswara.  Hereafter we will refer to Nirguna Brahman as Brahman and Saguna Brahman as Iswara. Iswara is Brahman with the power of Maya active.  It is Iswara who is the creator, preserver and destroyer of this universe and who is represented by various forms with names, used in worship.  So Brahman is the nameless and Iswara is the named mentioned in Chapter 1.  It can be realised only by a refined mind free from binding desires.  A binding desire is one that craves for fulfilment.  From binding desires spring other negative emotions like Raga (attachment), Dwesha(hatred), lobha (greed), Moha (delusion), Madha (pride), Mascharya (jealousy). Such an unrefined mind is lost in the material world and cannot visualise beyond the manifested world to understand Iswara, what to speak of  Brahman, from whom the manifested world has come through Iswara .  Darkness refers to mystery.  To such an unrefined mind stuck with binding desires Iswara itself is a mystery and Brahman a still greater mystery, a mystery within mystery, mother of all mysteries.
I give below a few quotes from Tao Te Ching which echo Indian philosophical thought and which need no explanation.

Being at one with Tao is eternal.                                                                                
And though the body dies, the Tao will never pass away.   (Ch. 16)
Knowing others is wisdom;                                                                                 
Knowing the Self is enlightenment.                                       (Ch.33)
Tao abides in non-action.                                                                                             
Yet nothing is left undone                                                      (Ch.37)
Those who know, do not talk                                                                                    
Those who talk, do not know.                                                  (Ch.56)
Tao is the source of the ten thousand things                                                                   
It is the treasure of the good man, and the refuge of the bad.    (Ch.62)